Apple Goes Cuddly

In looking back at the best ads of 2023, Apple’s “The Lost Voice” spot tops my list.

Released in honor of the U.N.-sponsored International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Dec. 3rd, Apple’s impeccably crafted and directed two-minute film does a hard thing: It demonstrates cold, cutting-edge iOS 17 “personal voice” technology while offering warmth, whimsy, mystery, and a ton of heart. Plus, there’s authenticity baked in.

Created by Apple’s Marcom division, the short film is directed by multi-hyphenate writer/actor/filmmaker/Academy Award-winner (“Jojo Rabbit”) Taika Waititi of Hungry Man Productions, (and New Zealand) who brings a dazzling visual ecosystem to the proceedings.

“Why, oh why, creature, are you so quiet?" a towering, fantasy-like entity seems to be saying during the opening, set in a storybook forest.



The big, round bunny-eared one is not exactly placeable. As some sort of mountainous woodland imp, he’s clad in a happenin’ vest and horn-rimmed specs, but he’s also furry, pinkish, soft, and timeless, like a walking cuddle.

Then we hear, “You've lost your voice? I'll help you find it! Maybe your voice is under this log. No voice there. Just this frog. Could it be up in that tree? Nothing to see.”

By now the girl with him has opened her antique compass, and like a junior detective, follows (and sometimes leads) Mr. Creature through oceans and deserts, along the way bumping into a croaking frog, a deliciously crumpled owl, and other fantasy land-and-sea-and-vegetable-puppets who, in their delightful imperfections, inspire compassion.

But here’s the head-scratcher: The cute young girl speaks in response to the words we hear throughout the spot.

She answers simply, in her New Zealand accent, with “Anything?” and “I can’t find it!” while trekking with her friend on their worldwide odyssey, which even includes looking down her throat.

So, is the spherical furry one referring to himself as the lost voice?  Hmm.

This is what sparks the tender reveal that I didn’t see coming.

After trekking over hill and dale, it seems the duo hasn’t found what they were looking for.

“It seems you have so much to say. I’m sure you’ll find another way,” we hear about two-thirds into the drama.

Then the spot cuts to a bedroom, where the father, the human incarnation of the cuddly Creature (same specs) is reading the rhyming bedtime story to his daughter, the intrepid girl in the spot.

She’s all tucked in and very sleepy, but says, “Read it again.”

Ah. While we were transported to a delightful fantasy land, we discover that here on earth, her father been reading to her this entire time using Apple’s new “human voice” speech accessibility feature, and merely has to type a few keystrokes into his phone to continue.

It’s even more tear-producing and powerful because it comes from such an authentic place. The dad is played by another New Zealander: disability advocate and epidemiologist Tristram Ingham. He has facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy, which causes progressive muscle degeneration and can ultimately lead to the inability to speak.

In 2013, he began using a wheelchair, and in recent years he has noticed voice deterioration.

Apple’s new Personal Voice feature allows people like him, at risk of speech loss, to create a synthesized voice that sounds like them by following a series of text prompts to capture 15 minutes of audio. 

Ingham has said that he’s had experiences at conferences at which his colleagues had to read his presentations for him.

"Disability communities are very mindful of proxy voices speaking on our behalf,” he said in a statement on the Apple web site. "Historically, providers have spoken for disabled people, family have spoken for disabled people. If technology can allow a voice to be preserved and maintained, that's autonomy, that's self-determination.”

Here's where that company that makes stuff in California does well by doing good.

But wait, there’s more: Apple also released a companion “Lost Voice” ebook, featuring the very story in the film.

Now we’re talking about the icing on the icing, and more quiet tears.

2 comments about "Apple Goes Cuddly".
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  1. Geoffrey Precourt from Journal of Advertising Research, January 4, 2024 at 5:49 p.m.

    Good work, Barb.

  2. Barbara Lippert from replied, January 5, 2024 at 3:42 p.m.

    thanks, GEO!

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